Caveat: This is at best drive-by urbanism, I didn’t do any investigative reporting besides citing Wikipedia and visiting and photographing. While we did get out of the car, I don’t claim to know what makes the town tick, but even at a short glance, some issues can be identified.
Albert Lea is a city in and the county seat of Freeborn County in the southeastern part of the State of Minnesota. The population was 18,016 at the 2010 census.
Marion Ross is from Albert Lea. (So is Eddie Cochran.) This is a fact you cannot miss if you visit Albert Lea [photos]. The first thing one notices is that the Main Street, while attempts have been made to restore it, including an active road reconstruction project, is dead. Some may say it is just stunned, but I say its, pinin’ for the Fjords.
Now there are plenty of lovely buildings (most of which have seen better days and have been remodeled badly), and a lovely lake at the end of Main Street, and a nice performing arts center, and pedestrian brick pathways acting as crosswalks, and planters, and no shortage of diagonal on-street parking spaces on the very wide road. But people and economic activity are missing. Physical infrastructure cannot of itself create economic activity. The town has also made special efforts in walkability, but on a mild Saturday afternoon, I saw almost no-one walking.
What could have gone wrong? What activity there was migrated to nearer the interchanges with I-90 and I-35. Albert Lea is the town just southwest of this interchange, and so should be a veritable crossroads of commerce, there are a very limited number of towns on a ‘0 level east-west interstate and a ‘5 level north-south interstate. Had all of the economic activity been concentrated rather than spread out, there would probably be a thriving historic Main Street in the old town area, rather than a “Main Street” (US 65) which is really a Main Highway. Still, the town is declining in population (unlike the other 3 towns we visited), and would make a perfect case for immigration. Here we have an overbuilt capital plant needing people, and all around the world are people who would love to have America’s cast off built infrastructure. Just somehow put 2500 more people living and working on and around Main Street, and the place would be bustling. (Easier said than done, of course.)